March 2015 Newsletter

Is The Chinese Market Levelling Out?

The answer is certainly not! This question has arisen as many have started to see or read in trade newspapers and magazines that there have been many unsold lots of Chinese art at auctions. For a lot to be unsold this obviously means there were insufficient bids on the item. The main reasons for this are: i) the item was too highly estimated and the reserve not reached, ii) there was something wrong with the item physically, iii) it was wrongly catalogued or iv) it had no appeal.

For something to be too highly estimated it has to come down to greed or inflated expectations. Not surprisingly when every other headline in trade or even national newspapers and magazines were reporting that a vase or bowl had gone so far beyond estimate that it had set a new record, or had been estimated for tens of pounds but instead had fetched hundreds of thousands of pounds, suddenly items were being pulled out of collections to be sold. An over zealous vendor, or auctioneer sees the thousands of pounds as a realistic estimate instead of the more honest one of a few hundred pounds. Who doesn’t like being told that their collection is virtually priceless and they should expect a real windfall?

An economics teacher of mine would have called this 'Sandwich Economics'. You price your sandwiches in the shop but if they sell out before mid-day then the price would rise the following day. The aim would be to sell out by mid afternoon and therefore the price would rise each day until that is achieved. If there was some left at five o'clock then next day the price was slightly less, never changing the quantity only the price and this is exactly what some auctioneers have been doing with Chinese Art. If it doesn't reach the reserve in the sale they then either consider an offer from an under bidder or more likely re-offer it in the next sale on a reduced reserve but the integrity of that item is then tainted. The danger is the prices are seen as falling and there is still no guarantee that the reserve has been lowered enough.

Restoration is improving dramatically. Restorers can be amazing and the work they can do and the results they achieve unbelievable. I have, like many, an ultra violet torch in my bag for when I view an auction along with a high powered normal torch, the light in many provincial rooms is not always ideal. Auctioneers do their best to be honest about condition but it is not always possible to see some of the very best work of the restorer. All lots I buy go straight into boiling water and if there is any undisclosed restoration it soon becomes apparent and the piece returned. Restored and damaged pieces won't always sell for the reserve especially if it is difficult to be certain how extensive the restoration is. I always try to avoid either buying excessively over sprayed pieces and using overspray in any restoration that I have commissioned thereby insuring that all can know how much damage must exist. The Asian buyers will not buy restored but are prepared to buy damaged but for Europeans and North Americans it is vice versa. So much in auction is not being sold because of damage and 'hidden' restoration. Good honest, clean pieces and restored, so long as not done to deceive will always sell. If restored a before and after picture is always needed and will guarantee a good sale. But this doesn't happen. Hence many items fail to sell.

Wrongly catalogued pieces are always fun. Pieces catalogued as nineteenth century and are earlier will sell but often that is not the case more likely it is catalogued as correct when in fact it is a 19th, 20th or 21st century copy or fake. Specialist auctions in all good auction houses both in the capital cities and around the provinces have the most expertise. Their sale figures are not falling except for the fact that there are fewer good items that they are prepared to accept, for this they should be congratulated as they are doing a great service.

All of this makes vetting at fairs heart breaking for many dealers having some of their 'bargains' vetted off. This makes vetting for the vetters a long process.

Finally no appeal means just that, because something is rare it doesn't always mean that it is collectable. Good quality 'export ware' and Chinese taste porcelain and works of art will always be bought, but esoteric or run of the mill export Famille rose or very late eighteenth or nineteenth century export ware will be difficult. These have more of a decorative appeal and not a Chinese or collectors taste. If it doesn't appeal to you it might not appeal to many others.

Quality will always sell whether they are damaged or perfect. But the market has been flooded with poor quality and too highly estimated pieces along with modern copies and fakes. When it says an auction only sold fifty percent of the Chinese lots ask why and not think the market has fallen back as that certainly is not the case.


Click the links for e tickets to Antique Fairs. Antiques For Every One at the NEC in Birmingham and the CADA Fair at Blenheim. The NEC ticket allows for free parking at the venue and is always a good day out with over 300 stands and the fair is comprehensively vetted. The CADA Antique fair is set in the Orangery in the glorious setting of Blenheim Palace, Woodstock. This ticket also allows for free entry into the grounds and tea rooms and reduced entrance fee for the Palace itself. A wonderful day out. Both tickets can be downloaded as often as you like and are also on my web site www.cathyhunt.co.uk